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La Jolla permit reviewers debate density of Lower Hermosa home project before giving OK

La Jolla's DPR Committee approved a lot tie and construction of a house across 6375 Avenida Cresta and 6360 Via Maria.
La Jolla’s Development Permit Review Committee approved a proposed lot tie and construction of a house across 6375 Avenida Cresta and 6360 Via Maria.
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Residential density was the subject of debate at the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee’s Sept. 8 meeting, though the debate was about how to proceed with a development in the Lower Hermosa neighborhood seeking to build below recommended density, rather than above.

“It’s the opposite of what we typically deal with,” said DPR trustee Angeles Leira. “We typically deal with Cinderella’s sister trying to jam her foot in a shoe that is too small to make it fit. It’s an interesting issue worth discussing.”

The proposal, initially heard last month, calls for a coastal development permit to demolish two existing homes, tie the two lots together and build a new 9,181-square-foot residence and an accessory dwelling unit at 6375 Avenida Cresta and 6360 Via Maria.

The board ultimately approved the project, and the findings will proceed to the La Jolla Community Planning Association for ratification.

DPR trustee Mike Costello said the “real issue” with the project is its density.

The discussion was largely among the trustees. The only applicant comment was by Haley Duke from Island Architects, who said that because there will be a main house and an accessory dwelling unit in place of two houses, there would be no change in density from the existing structures.

The site is 20,037 square feet in an area zoned for five to nine units per residential acre. The proposed project would have two units per residential acre.

“The Community Plan states, as a policy, ‘maintain existing residential character of La Jolla neighborhoods by encouraging build-out of residential areas at the plan density,’” Costello said. “Reducing the density to what is below what is identified in the Community Plan would adversely affect the Community Plan’s recommendation.”

Fellow trustee Diane Kane called that observation “an interesting wrinkle” and looked at the project long-term and through the lens of the Complete Communities proposal set to be heard by the San Diego City Council in coming months. That proposal looks to shape housing guidelines to encourage construction near transit, at increased density and for moderate and low income levels.

“There is an issue about units, density, affordable housing and zoning [in the Complete Communities proposal],” Kane said. “In most arguments, the issue is cramming more units onto a parcel rather than fewer units. They are opposite ends of the same argument, which is ‘how many units can you build in the same space?’

“One of the things I’ve been wrestling with is … how we are getting proposals for very expensive houses in La Jolla that are completely out of sync with local real estate demands, which we have seen as being for more middle-income properties. As we have seen, in San Diego generally, the trend is to overbuild on the luxury side and underbuild on the middle-income and lower-income side.”

However, DPR Chairman Brian Will noted that by requesting a lot tie rather than a lot merger, the two lots containing one house could be temporary and change as development needs evolve. “The lot tie only survives as long as the house does,” he said. “I don’t know if they are depriving the community of future development.”

Leira said looking at the scale and character of the neighborhood “becomes critical” and that “if you play by the numbers, this project is inconsistent. But if you play with neighborhood character, it is consistent. … I feel comfortable with this development because it is consistent with the scale and character of the neighborhood.”

A motion to support the project passed unanimously.

The Development Permit Review Committee meets the second and third Tuesdays of each month. The next meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sept. 15 online. Learn more at lajollacpa.org. ◆